Monday, April 29, 2013

“42” manages to cover all the bases

Those of you who’ve spent time with me on these digital pages already know my cosmic belief that all things in life come in three flavors: good, bad and okay. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything – movies, books, food, vacations, jobs, lawn services, back rubs – fall into one of these groups.

And, truth to tell, so far it seems that as often as not the “okay” bin is where most of life can be found; and that, well, is okay. So it’s really nice when I can report that I recently had a “good” experience at the neighborhood multiplex, thoroughly enjoying a film that falls just short of great.
Oh, right, there is a fourth classification. But I hold it way out on the spectrum of cosmic happenings, the place reserved for only the most memorable events of life that linger sweetly in my mind. But I digress.
The point of all this rambling is that the lovely Miss Wendy and I went to see “42” over the weekend and I’m thinking the filmmakers managed to hit a grand slam with this movie about Jackie Robinson. Most of the highs and lows that Robinson experienced – and there were many – as he went about integrating major league baseball is the stuff of legend.
So the power of “42” isn’t the story itself. The drama – the move from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues to the Brooklyn Dodgers via its Montreal affiliate – has been fleshed out for years in newspaper articles and TV interviews, books, films and plays. No, it’s all the little details that defined the man and the sordid times that the movie’s director, Brian Helgeland, captures and wraps in mythic tones that set the film apart. Mark Isham’s soaring score adds both and exclamation point to the effort an occasional goose bumps.
There’s also Harrison Ford. He’s been around forever and forever it seems he’s been mostly playing himself – anyone recall Cowboys & Aliens? This time around, he’s been handed a bigger-than-life character, Branch Rickey, and manages to get most everything right.
Rickey is a complicated mixture of capitalism, religion, decency, and courage, all gussied up in a curmudgeonly façade. Ford plays him with gusto, balanced out with that crooked smile he’s polished and perfected over the years.
Meanwhile, Chadwick Boseman offers up a Robinson that is quietly heroic, a man able to bend and not break in a country filled with racists. The truth is often troubling and, in hindsight for a certain generation, it makes little sense today that America and the world had managed to destroy fascism while racism remained a way of life from sea to shining sea.
If nothing else, “42” puts the lie to “I remember when,” the melancholy ode offered up by aging Americans – many of them the heart and soul of that group of folks now fondly recalled as “The Greatest Generation”. And yet, even as the country was changing, lunging painfully forward, there was something splendid and grand taking place.
That’s the feeling that lingers about as the music swells and the credits begin to roll. It’s a feeling that, even for the cynics among us, comes with a lump in your throat and the notion that “42” is definitely lots better than just okay.

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